The American Revolution in South Carolina

Districts and Parishes During the Revolution


The population of the South Carolina "backcountry" and "upcountry" increased tremendously in the 1760s and early 1770s, partly due to the finalization of the NC/SC Border Survey in 1772 along much of the northern portion (still not completed until 1815). Considerable land that many folks had considered to be in North Carolina became part of South Carolina, and the majority of these new South Carolinians were strongly pro-American in their sentiments.

As the Patriots began to consider breaking ties with England, the leaders in South Carolina wanted very much to get rid of the Anglican Church and its "parish" system that was so pervasive in everyday life as well as prevasive in the way the province performed its governmental duties. However, it was quickly determined that the "lowcountry" people could not be convinced since it was so ingrained in how business was transacted. Conversely, the backcountry and the upcountry never embraced the Anglican Church and the "parish system" was never implemented.

The 1768/1769 District Court Acts had only recently established seven new "districts" - Beaufort, Camden, Charles Town, Cheraws, Georgetown, Ninety-Six, and Orangeburgh - and each of these new districts had only recently began to operate as true judicial identities with their own district court houses and associated legislative members. Most new court houses were not operational until 1772, some even later. The "voting precincts" were still maintained in the lowcountry at the well-established "parishes," and this was also true for part of the Orangeburgh and Camden districts.

Therefore, when the leaders of the Patriot cause within South Carolina began calling for a Provincial Congress, it was decided to give the backcountry and upcountry "new districts" without the parish nomenclature and baggage. In November of 1774, the call for elections for the First Provincial Congress established "more newness" for the people to digest. "Sub-districts" were created in Camden, Ninety-Six, and Orangeburgh, and the SC leaders tried to get away from using those names, but they simply could not.

The 1768/1769 Orangeburgh District was subdivided into three new districts - St. Matthew's Parish, Saxe-Gotha District, and the District Between Savannah River and North Fork of Edisto River. The 1768/1769 Ninety-Six District was split into two districts, one retaining the name Ninety-Six, plus the District Between Broad and Saluda River. The 1768/1769 Camden District was divided into three new districts - District Eastward of Wateree River, District Between Broad and Catawba River, and the New Acquisition District. Needless to say, these new districts/subdistricts with such long names were never popular with the people.

The elections for the First Provincial Congress, which was held in January of 1775, were designated to elect representatives from the following state precincts:

Beaufort District - St. Helena's Parish
Beaufort District - St. Peter's Parish
Beaufort District - Prince William Parish
Charles Town District - St. Bartholomew's Parish
Charles Town District - St. John's, Colleton Parish
Charles Town District - St. George, Dorchester Parish
Charles Town District - St. Paul's Parish
Charles Town District - St. Andrew's Parish
Charles Town District - St. Philip & St. Michael Parish
Charles Town District - Christ Church Parish
Charles Town District - St. James, Goose Creek Parish
Charles Town District - St. Thomas & St. Denis Parish
Charles Town District - St. John's, Berkeley Parish
Charles Town District - St. Stephen's Parish
Charles Town District - St. James, Santee Parish
Georgetown District - Prince George, Winyah Parish
Georgetown District - Prince Frederick Parish
Cheraws District - St. David's Parish
Camden District - District Eastward of Wateree River
Camden District - District Between Broad & Catawba River
Camden District - New Acquisition District
Ninety-Six District
Ninety-Six District - District Between Broad & Saluda River
Orangeburgh District - St. Matthew's Parish
Orangeburgh District - Saxe-Gotha District
Orangeburgh District - District Between Savannah River & North Fork of Edisto River

In February of 1776, the 2nd Provincial Congress decided that the District Between Broad & Saluda River should be further sub-divided, and the following new "districts" were established: Lower District, Little River District, and the Upper District (also known as the Spartan District). At this session, seven new delegates were accepted from these new districts. These were also defined in the first Constitution drafted in March of 1776.

Between March of 1776 and March of 1778, the government of South Carolina reworked its Constitution and its voting districts once again. When the final State Constitution was issued on March 19, 1778, it included two more voting precincts with associated allocated representation - Orange Parish created out of part of St. Matthew's Parish and All Saints Parish created out of part of Prince George, Winyah Parish. For some reason, the much earlier-created St. Luke's Parish within the Beaufort District was never acknowledged - either by the people or the new Provincial government.

This hodge-podge of nomenclature seemed to make sense to most of the people. Those living in the backcountry and the upcountry did not want "parishes" and they never had to use them. Those in the lowcountry that were accustomed to "parishes" got to keep them. The greatest confusion was what to do about the "old 1768/1769 Districts?" Neither Constitution mentions them. It is apparent that the State's leaders wanted to get rid of that terminology, but it was stuck with them. Part of the problem was that the very first "calls for militia" went out under the "old 1768/1769 District" terminology.

Yes, from the beginning in January of 1775, calls went out for men to raise up in local militias - as they had been doing for almost a century - and the commanders immediately began using the "old 1768/1769 District" names. So did the Council of Safety in Charleston. Orders went out for the province to assemble 13 regiments of militia: one for each District, one for each County (well, two for Craven County - upper and lower).

Huh? Where did "County" come from? Oh yes, South Carolina had four "really old" counties that people had not stopped using - ever. Berkeley County, Colleton County, Craven County, and Granville County. These had been in existence UNTIL the "old 1768/1769 Districts" were created - only a few years before the Revolution. They were supposed to "go away" in 1768/1769, but the oldtimers simply could not let go.

And, this only added to the confusion - especially for folks researching South Carolina in the American Revolution. Certainly, those living at the time fully comprehended all of this.

In June of 1775, the South Carolina government officially created the following "regiments" of militia:

Berkeley County Regiment of Militia
Colleton County Regiment of Militia
Upper Craven County Regiment of Militia
Lower Craven County Regiment of Militia
Colleton County Regiment of Militia
Granville County Regiment of Militia
Beaufort District Regiment of Militia
Camden District Regiment of Militia
Charles Town District Regiment of Militia
Cheraws District Regiment of Militia
Georgetown District Regiment of Militia
Ninety-Six District Regiment of Militia
Orangeburgh District Regiment of Militia

However, it wasn't quite this simple. The local leaders "living" in the areas described above took it upon themselves to interpret the Provincial Congress's orders as they saw fit. It got quite interesting in late 1775 when word went out that the upcoming 2nd Provincial Congress was going to approve three "new districts" in the Ninety-Six area (described above) - Lower District, Little River District, and the Upper (or Spartan) District. Plus, there was such a rush to "sign up" in the Charles Town District (since it was the most populous) that the leaders there decided that they needed two regiments in their district. Then, those in the "old Camden District" also woke up and realized that the Camden District had been subdivided into three "new districts" in 1775, so the leaders in those areas interpreted the orders as they saw fit, as well.

Not every section of the Province had the same level of success in raising "volunteers." Throughout the Beaufort District, men complained about volunteering and wanted "guarantee of pay" before signing up. This section of the lowcountry provided the smallest numbers of men than any other part of South Carolina - all during the war - and for both sides. Being so close to Savannah was a big factor in this with the constant threat that the British would take Savannah - which they easily did in 1779.

Needless to say, those who still kindled favor for "king and crown" decided to raise their own "Loyalist Militias," pretty much along the same lines as the Patriots. At most times, the number of Loyalist militiamen were much less than the number of Patriots, except immediately after Charleston fell in May of 1780. The largest number of Loyalist militiamen came from the Ninety-Six District and surrounding "new districts" of the "old Ninety-Six District."

The "parish" terminology was interestingly employed in the raising of troops. Only the "old districts" along the coast subdivided their regiments into companies raised in each parish - as had been done since the founding of the colony. The "old counties" did NOT use the parish names, but the companies raised within their regiments were often named after very localized areas, such as the "Salt Catcher's Volunteers" and the "Upper Three Runs Company." The upcountry and backcountry districts did much the same as the "old counties" since there were no old parish names to employ.

As the war progressed and battles were fought and won or lost, and the Continental Army was soon heavily engaged in the Province of South Carolina, the military leaders did their best to eliminate the "county, district, or parish" terminology in their naming of troop units. Or, at least "historians" did their best to do this for them. Regiments were grouped into Brigades, both with simple numerical designations, such as SC 1st Regiment of Infantry, or SC 2nd Brigade of Militia.

After the fall of Charleston, the Province was in utter turmoil - both in the civilian government and in the military. Many of South Carolina's finest troops were now British prisoners, some to remain so for several years, some to be released in exchanges much sooner. Many were simply paroled with instructions to sit out the remainder of the war without taking up arms. The people were weary of war, and the people were no longer so hung up on "old designations."

In the Summer and Fall of 1780, regenerating after the fall of Charleston, the South Carolina military began to simplify how it called itself. Again, this may be, in great part, due to "historians," but it also seems to bear out in contemporaneous documentation. Officially, the numerical designators were still in place - such as the SC 2nd Regiment, etc. But, below the Regiment or Brigade level, the terminology changed considerably.

Instead of raising new troops for the "Georgetown District Militia" - there simply was no Georgetown District functioning in any capacity, governmental or militarily - local leaders started creating the "Britton's Neck Regiment" or the "Fork of the Saluda Regiment." These were now VERY LOCALIZED names. Most people throughout the Province - the officials and the everyday Joe - knew of Sumter's Regiment or Marion's Regiment or Pickens Regiment. That's what the men "under" them called themselves. That's what the "enemy" called them.

Even prior to the fall of Charleston in May of 1780, most every "military unit" below the Regiment level was called by its commanding officer's name. "I was in Capt. Barnwell's company." Or, "I was in Col. Harden's regiment." There were many other names before the fall of Charleston, such as the "Euhaw Volunteers," and the "Pocotaligo Hunters" led by "Capt. such-and-such," but after the fall of Charleston these "fancy names" fell by the wayside, for the most part. Companies may have been re-established at the parish level within the lowcountry districts, but few are found with parish company names after the fall of Charleston.

At the conclusion of the American Revolution, the new State of South Carolina immediately realized that it needed to totally revamp its "election and voting" precincts. The confusing "layers" of Parish, County, District, and even sub-District was simply too much to keep track of. Those in the lowcountry, always dreadful of "change" of any kind, simply wanted things to remain as they were. But, those in the backcountry and the upcountry were much more progressive - partly because many of them were "fairly new South Carolinians" and were used to a very organized and formal hierarchy of government, such as was implemented across the state line in North Carolina.

In 1783, South Carolina attempted to implement the "county" form of government, and it established 33 "new" counties all across the state by 1785. Those in the backcountry and upcountry embraced this concept almost instantly, and new court houses began to spring up. Those in ALL lowcountry "districts" simply "pooh-poohed" this concept and none launched the construction of new court houses. The people in the Georgetown District, Charleston District, and Beaufort District were content with how things were - so, the 13 counties created in the lowcountry simply "faded away." No one wanted them. Surprisingly, this was also true in Orangeburg District - but for a different reason - there simply just wasn't enough population to sustain the four "new counties" and the cost of the infrastructure needed to run them.

Yet, the remaining sixteen counties thrived. So, once again, you had a "mixture" of how the government was going to be run. And, the pre-War "frictions" between Lowcountry and Backcountry began to heat up once again. But, this time, the Backcountry now had a much larger population "differential" that the Lowcountry simply could not outvote. It took another fifteen years, but by 1800, the entire State of South Carolina adopted the "county" form of government - but, to permit the Lowcountry people to feel that they managed a "win" out of this, South Carolina chose to call their "counties" as "districts" instead. In 1800, there were 27 "districts" instead of 27 "counties," even though they operated virtually identically.

Now, the State of South Carolina could vote, elect representatives, and raise militia - all with the same pride in the names of their districts. Well, at least until the end of the US Civil war, but that's another story.



© 2008 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved